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Rights Groups Condemn Rwandan Court Conviction of Paul Rusesabagina


FILE - Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda's 1994 genocide, is escorted in handcuffs from the courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda, Sept. 25, 2020.

Rights groups in Africa have condemned the Rwandan High Court’s sentencing of Paul Rusesabagina, made famous in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, to 25 years in prison. The court on Monday found Rusesabagina and 20 other suspects guilty of terrorism. Rusesabagina denies the charges, and critics say his arrest and trial did not meet international standards for justice.

Bahima Macumi fled to Kenya more than 20 years ago following Rwanda's civil war, but has been following Rusesabagina's trial closely.

He said Rusesabagina clearly did not get a fair trial.

He says this shows the Rwandan government does not want to be corrected, because if it did, they would have at least listened to this person who saved over 1,000 people. He says if the person who saved over 1,000 people can be called a terrorist, what would they call the one who did not save anybody?

To the world at large, Rusesabagina is a hero for sheltering at-risk Tutsis and Hutus in the Kigali hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

To the Rwandan government, he is a threat, a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame who allegedly supported a militia group that seeks to overthrow the Rwandan government.

Human rights advocates are condemning his conviction.

According to Amnesty International, the Monday court ruling puts in question the fairness of Rwanda's judicial system when it comes to high-profile and sensitive cases.

Sarah Jackson is Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.

"We found many fair trial violations, including his unlawful rendition to Rwanda, his imposed disappearance at the beginning of the case and his initial inability to select a lawyer of his own choosing and all of these things during the pretrial period impact the fairness of the trial itself," Jackson said.

Rusesabagina has 30 days to appeal his conviction, but rights groups doubt that judges can make an impartial decision on the case. Human Rights Watch's Lewis Mudge explains.

"Unfortunately, this case has become an emblematic case in Rwanda so much that it really does highlight the lack of independence in the judiciary," Mudge said. "It's difficult for us to say that an appeal should happen or will happen because that will imply a degree of confidence in the judicial system that is currently in Rwanda.”

Rusesabagina says he was tricked into going to Rwanda in August of 2020. He had boarded a flight in Dubai that he believed was bound for Burundi, only for the flight to land in Kigali, where he was quickly arrested.

He went on trial along with 20 others in February. U.S State Department spokesman Ned Price Monday said the reported lack of fair trial in Rusesabagina's case calls into question the fairness of the verdict. Rwandan prosecutors maintain the trial was fair.

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